Venue : Ono Estadi, Palma de Mallorca
“We haven’t won anything Yet”
Well they cant say that anymore.
WE HAVE WON !! WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF THE LEAGUE AND THE COPA !!
In the span of 3 days Barça demolished Athletic Bilbao to win the Copa and were handed the Liga title even before stepping on to the pitch at the Ono Estadi by Real Madrid’s loss to Villareal. So after going title-less for 2 seasons Barça have won the double in Pep Guardiola’s first season as manager with a revamped and reinvigorated squad.
THIS SEASON’S SUCCESS
Obviously the biggest change from the 2 barren years has been the appointment of Guardiola. Guardiola, the mason, if Cruijff was the architect of the original Dream Team has turned from conductor to composer, orchestrating a Barça squad which simply by the poetic beauty of its passing game and attacking play this season would have been regarded by many as a success even without the concrete proof of the Double.
It may be argued that Barça never truly deviated from its characteristic style but Guardiola invoked a sharpness and definition to Barça’s game that made the passing triangles more than just pretty sequences which do not really influence the game. Incorporating discipline into the side brought in an effectiveness and purposefulness into Barça’s fluent but erstwhile unthreatening offense.
It was only meant to be a transition year for Barça in the hope of building a team which would rise to its true potential in the following season or the one after. These early fruits will doubtless cause other teams to wonder where this team might be headed in the upcoming seasons. Routinely logging above 65% possession Barça have improved defensively by refusing to allow the opposition sufficient time on the ball to build attacks while at the same time adding a cutting edge which translates the greater possession eventually into goals.
Recent matches have seen the team adding a new dimension by reducing clearances and instead passing the ball out of defence at every opportunity. This is perhaps indicative of where Guardiola is willing to compromise in order to thwart teams which try to park the bus against Barcelona.
Most noticeably in the Copa final against Bilbao, we saw Pinto, Pique, Puyol and co. taking goalkicks short and playing the ball calmly out of defence and sometimes as far back as their own touchline. Since most teams sense greater opportunity when the ball is so close to Barça’s goal they invariably come out hunting for it, opening up large spaces in the midfield which are quickly exploited by Barça.
Most other teams which would regard such a tactic as too risky to even consider and it remains to be seen if this will be used regularly in the next few games and next season.
DOWN TO PALMA DE MALLORCA THEN
The team travels to Mallorca in the midst of celebrations in the Catalan capital at the first coming of silverware in 3 yrs. Mallorca is famous as the most popular tourist destination for Britons, its mild weather and granting personhood to Great Apes.
Gregoroio Manzano’s squad after looking hapless and certain to be relegated earlier in the season have pulled themselves together to reach a position of assured safety from the drop. With matches against Barcelona, Madrid and Villareal remaining, Mallorca sits 11 points above the relegation zone breathing easy at 10th position in the league table.
Manzano has a decent squad to work with which makes the apathetic performances earlier in the season seem strange.
STATS AND PREVIOUS ENCOUNTERS THIS SEASON
Barça have met Mallorca 3 times already this season, in the first leg of this clash in La Liga and in the Copa semifinals.
In the la Liga encounter in January, Mallorca went a goal ahead courtesy of Aduriz before Barça came hard at them to finish with a 3 – 1 win.
In the first leg of the Copa semifinals Barça won 2 – 0 by virtue of an Henry header and a Marquez free-kick.
In the second leg, Mallorca again took the lead before Barça equalised late through a Messi goal.
Mallorca has been on an impressive run until it came up against Sevilla last weekend. In the second half of the season, Mallorca have lost only 3 matches, winning 9 and drawing 4. Against the top 5 teams however they have only managed a win against Valencia. In a season where a number of sides have found playing at home more intimidating than away Mallorca have won two-thirds (66%) of their points at home.
The results of the last 5 matches are :
18 Apr 09 Malaga 1 - 1 Mallorca
23 Apr 09 Mallorca 2 - 0 Valladolid
26 Apr 09 Huelva 2 - 4 Mallorca
3 May 09 Mallorca 2 - 1 Getafe
9 May 09 FC Sevilla 3 - 1 Mallorca
With the league already in the bag it is expected of Guardiola to give a number of players an early break. He can also use the next 2 games to evaluate the ability of a number of players, both those progressing from the Barça B squad as well as the few journeymen internationals (a.k.a Caceres, Guddy and Hleb) who have had lesser opportunities this season. It still would be necessary to incorporate one or two of the regulars to retain the structure of the squad. Samuel Eto’o returns to the pitch from where he launched his career but may be expected to watch this one from the bench.
Manzano may be expected to use his top striker Aduriz and the youngster Jurado on loan from Atletico who is threatening to overtake him in the goal scoring charts. A few regular defenders are missing in the squad named, the veteran right back Lionel Scaloni, Nunes and Navarro among them.
Predicted Lineups :
Mallorca : Moya, Josemi, Ramis, Corrales, Ayoze, Varela, Cleber Santana, Marti, Arango, Aduriz, Jurado
Barcelona : Valdes, Victor Sanchez, Puyol, Caceres, Sylvinho, Gudjohnsen, Busquets, Keita, Pedro, Bojan, Hleb
The importance of these two games for Pep, lies in deciding who between Sylvinho or Caceres to field in the Champions League final against Manchester United. Basically the decision will be dependent on Sylvinho’s durability to handle what might be an exhausting encounter and Caceres’ tendency to make vital errors. A clean sheet would be a great confidence booster.
CONGRATULATIONS AND THANKS FOR A GREAT SEASON !!!
Prediction : Mallorca 0 – 2 Barcelona
p.s. : Those watching the game on Sky Sports will have to hear for the 151st time about how Jerry Armstrong once played for Mallorca.
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Venue : Ono Estadi, Palma de Mallorca